By Alexander Britell
NEW YORK — Caribbean tourism has a new pace-setter.
The Bahamas reported a whopping 18 percent surge in stopover visitors in the first quarter of 2018, the fastest rate of growth in the region.
That was announced by Bahamas Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar during a keynote presentation at Caribbean Week in New York.
According to D’Aguilar, the 18 percent rise meant an extra 63,000 visitors in the period.
“We’re very bullish on 2018,” said D’Aguilar, who is concluding his term as the chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organization.
That’s due to a number of factors, from new airlift from carriers like Southwest Airlines and JetBlue (and more on the way from airlines including Delta) and the finally-complete opening of the 2,300 room Baha Mar megaresort.
The Baha Mar recently debuted the final phase of its development, the new Rosewood Baha Mar, at the end of last month.
It’s also due in part to a veritable renaissance for the Out Islands of the Bahamas, which have been making a major push to promote islands like Cat Island, Harbour Island, Acklins Island, Long Island and Bimini, among others.
“The [Out Islands] are very vibrant right now,” D’Aguilar told Caribbean Journal. “They’re certainly very robust, and we’re expecting a record number of foreign visitors to those islands in 2018.”
That could mean a projected 300,000 visitors to the Out Islands, this year, D’Aguilar said.
“Hotel members of the Bahama Out Islands Promotion Board in all categories (hotels with more than 50 rooms and hotels with 50 rooms and under in the Northern, Central and Southern Bahamas) showed increases in Room Nights Sold for the January – April period when compared to the same period in 2017,” said Kerry Fountain, executive director of the Bahamas Out Islands Promotion Board. “Furthermore, forecasts for the May – July period, when compared to the May – July period in 2017, also point to across-the-board increases in Room Nights Sold. While this is indeed good news, there is still tremendous potential for further growth if we were to establish a true hub to these islands via Nassau, thus providing more convenient and more affordable one-stop service to all of our islands.”
It was a major turnaround for the destination following a sluggish 2017 during which The Bahamas reported a 2.1 percent reduction in stayover arrivals, in large part due to a pair of hurricanes in the previous two years.